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J Am Chem Soc. 2016 Mar 23;138(11):3813-23. doi: 10.1021/jacs.5b13541. Epub 2016 Mar 11.

Enzyme-Instructed Self-Assembly of Small D-Peptides as a Multiple-Step Process for Selectively Killing Cancer Cells.

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Department of Chemistry, Brandeis University , 415 South Street, Waltham, Massachusetts 02453, United States.


Selective inhibition of cancer cells remains a challenge in chemotherapy. Here we report the molecular and cellular validation of enzyme-instructed self-assembly (EISA) as a multiple step process for selectively killing cancer cells that overexpress alkaline phosphatases (ALPs). We design and synthesize two kinds of D-tetrapeptide containing one or two phosphotyrosine residues and with the N-terminal capped by a naphthyl group. Upon enzymatic dephosphorylation, these D-tetrapeptides turn into self-assembling molecules to form nanofibers in water. Incubating these D-tetrapeptides with several cancer cell lines and one normal cell line, the unphosphorylated D-tetrapeptides are innocuous to all the cell lines, the mono- and diphosphorylated D-tetrapeptides selectively inhibit the cancer cells, but not the normal cell. The monophosphorylated D-tetrapeptides exhibit more potent inhibitory activity than the diphosphorylated D-tetrapeptides do; the cancer cell lines express higher level of ALPs are more susceptible to inhibition by the phosphorylated D-tetrapeptides; the precursors of D-tetrapeptides that possess higher self-assembling abilities exhibit higher inhibitory activities. These results confirm the important role of enzymatic reaction and self-assembly. Using uncompetitive inhibitors of ALPs and fluorescent D-tetrapeptides, we delineate that the enzyme catalyzed dephosphorylation and the self-assembly steps, together, result in the localization of the nanofibers of D-tetrapeptides for killing the cancer cells. We find that the cell death modality likely associates with the cell type and prove the interactions between nanofibers and the death receptors. This work illustrates a paradigm-shifting and biomimetic approach and contributes useful molecular insights for the development of spatiotemporal defined supramolecular processes/assemblies as potential anticancer therapeutics.

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